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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

May 17, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right, I have quite a few things to get through at the top, so please bear with me. So, today following completion of the U.S. Army's -- Army Forces Command’s independent review into civilian casualties that occurred on the 18th of March 2019 in the vicinity of Baghuz, Syria, the secretary issued a memorandum to the services and the combatant commands reaffirming the importance of timely reporting an intimate command oversight of civilian casualty allegations and incidents. 

Now, while the secretary remains confident that leaders across the department continue to share his commitment to protecting innocent civilians in the conduct of our operations, he was, as he communicated to the department disappointed to learn that several aspects of this particular review missed deadlines, accepted informational deficiencies that prevented making complete assessments, and were left open for many months. His memo today laid out five clear steps that he expects leaders to take to avoid such delays in the future. 

Now by now, you should have all received copies of both the secretary's memo as well as General Garrett's summary of the Baghuz review in your inbox. Both are also going to be available if they aren't already on defense.gov, our website. So, preserving our valuable time here together, I'm going to refrain from reading them all out to you in detail. 

But I do encourage you to go review both General Garrett's executive summary as well as the secretary's memo, which again lays out the reviews, methodologies, the key findings, accompanying recommendations, and of course, the specific direction that the secretary has given now to the department. Both of those documents and outcomes will be fully incorporated into the department's broader Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, which was directed by the secretary back in January. 

And Chris Maier, the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict is hard at work on getting the work of that Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan done and getting his team in place. That work is ongoing. 

Switching topics to suicide. It obviously remains a challenging issue here in the department and of course across the country. 

Back in March, you might remember that the secretary established the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee to conduct a comprehensive review of the department's efforts to address and prevent suicide in the military. Today, we're announcing that the committee will be led by Dr. Gayle Iwamasa, a leading expert in mental health from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

She will be joined by committee members who are experts in their own respective fields, and collectively represent a public health approach to suicide. They will be supported by consultants who will add critical perspectives in the areas of officer and enlisted leadership, the needs and perspectives of our military families, and the role of chaplains in suicide prevention. With that, the committee members are in Washington this week to begin their work. And in July they will start visits to the installations that were named in the onsite Installation Evaluation Report back in March, which we've talked about. The review these initial installations will yield recommendations for the department that can be applied across our force. The committee’s initial report was due to the secretary in December. 

Their final report and recommendations are due to Congress in February of next year. The list of members and special consultants, the committee's charter, and the projected data -- I'm sorry -- dates for site visits will be posted on defense.gov. 

Moving over to NATO, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, and U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet in Europe kicked off the NATO led activity Neptune Shield today. This activity increases the pace and flexibility of command and control of U.S. naval and amphibious forces between Sixth Fleet, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group operating in the Mediterranean Sea, the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group that's operating in the Baltic Sea, along with the embark 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. 

All will be placed under NATO operational control through the end of May and this activity will serve as a centerpiece for fostering NATO allies' ability to cooperate and integrate effectively. Neptune Shield 22 follows previous activities, Neptune Challenge in October 2021, and Neptune Strike in January to February of this -- earlier this year. 

Finally, scheduling wise, the secretary will be returning this evening from his trip to the UAE. He will meet various counterparts the remainder of this week. Tomorrow, he will meet with the Swedish Defense Minister. On Thursday, he will meet with the Spanish Defense Minister, as well as the Israeli Defense Minister. And then on Friday, he'll meet with his Colombian counterpart. 

We'll have obviously photo sprays and access at the beginning of these meetings as well as readouts after the fact. And with that, take questions. Lita, thank you for bearing with me.

Q: So, just one on Baghuz. It appears that he found that no one -- there were no violations of Law of War, et cetera. But were there no findings that anyone either got a letter of reprimand or anything in all -- in these multiple failures for filing not on time, et cetera, et cetera?

MR. KIRBY: No, the -- General Garrett did not see the need because of the process, the compliance deficiencies he did not find a need to have personal accountability for those.

Q: OK. And then just on Ukraine. Mariupol appears either fallen or on the brink of falling. What is the U.S. assessment of sort of the impact of that at this point? And do you believe that the city is actually now under complete Russian control?

MR. KIRBY: I would point you back to what the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said themselves, which is that the combat mission and Mariupol has ended. I think we certainly would defer to them, the Ukrainians, to define what's going on there. And look, no question that the civilians that were stuck there at the plant, who have finally been able to get out and the soldiers that continued to resist there did so bravely and skillfully. 

And it's quite admirable to think how long they were able to hold out. And President Zelensky referred to them as heroes. I think we would all agree with that. What this means is it's difficult to know at this particular time. And I -- again, I want to be careful not to speak to, you know, Russian intent here or their planning process. 

But we have long talked about the significance of Mariupol as a major economic port on the Sea of Azov and also geographically relevant to the fighting in the east, sort of at the southern end of near -- of where the Donbas region cuts across the extreme East of Ukraine. And we have long talked about the fact that we believe the Russians were going to try to encircle Ukrainian troops that are in the Donbas region and in the east, and to be able to free up forces to do that from the south meant Mariupol was important to them. 

So, again, I'll let the Ukrainian speak to the mission itself. But it's clear that the Russians still have an intent here to encircle and to occupy the Donbas and the Eastern part of the country. I would add, Lita, that they have not succeeded in that. Mariupol aside, the fighting still goes on in the Donbas, there's a lot of back and forth. 

It's a very, as we say it the Pentagon, it's a kinetic fight. There's a lot going on still there and the Ukrainians are still putting up a very stiff resistance in towns and villages throughout the Donbas. Jen.

Q: John, in terms of these reports, going back to the Baghuz report, how come nobody is ever punished when these reports come out? There's never any accountability. 

MR. KIRBY: Jen, I think, and you've been covering the Pentagon a long time, you know that we take the leadership and accountability very seriously here. I'm not going to -- I couldn't begin and wouldn't try to chronicle every single incident of civilian casualties over the past years and the example. 

What I can talk about here today is Baghuz, and the reason why the secretary wanted a four-star, who wasn't connected to the operation in a way to review it was to make sure that we got it right, in terms of how this operation was conducted, and how it was investigated, and dealt with after the fact. And he has complete trust and confidence in the work that General Garrett did. 

And General Garrett looked at this exhaustively over the course of many months, to make sure that he could properly understand what happened. And he did not find, and it's -- he's laid it out in that EXECSUM that you can see for yourself. He did not find that anybody acted outside the Law of War, that there was no malicious intent. That the ground force commander, given the information he had at the time, made the best decisions he could in the moment against a very aggressive ISIS force. 

And he also found that, after the fact, there were deficiencies in the way this was investigated and processed. So, I think we -- while we don't always get everything right, we do try to improve. We do try to be as transparent as we can about what we learned. And we're standing up here taking questions about it. And not that I don't want to -- well, I'll just leave it at that.

Q: This is a follow up. There's a new DoD IG report on Afghanistan. There are a series of reports about to come out about the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And one of the conclusions is that ISIS-K is on the rise there in recruiting. And that the -- there's an assessment that in the next 12 to 24 months, this is a CENTCOM assessment, that the Al-Qaeda will be given greater freedom of movement by the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Doesn't this suggest that the withdrawal was a mistake? Was a failure? And what are you going to do about it with the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K being documented in your own DoD IG report?

MR. KIRBY: We had long said that it was possible that groups like ISIS-K, and even Al-Qaeda could try to find a renewed foothold in Afghanistan, with our departure from Afghanistan. But I don't believe that we would at all agree that our departure from Afghanistan was a mistake. Our troops had fought there for 20 years, had accomplished the mission for which they were sent. 

There has been no 9/11 like attack on the United States since the attack that emanated from Afghanistan. And in the process, we certainly made improvements in Afghanistan. We've talked about this so much since the summertime, Jen, but the president made the absolute right decision that it was time for that war to end, time to bring the rest of those troops home. And that staying, and therefore, violating the Doha Agreement was only going to require putting more troops back in contact with the Taliban and lead to an extension of a war.

Q: This says on page 14, the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, assesses that ISIS-K could direct attacks against the U.S. homeland within the next year. That seems to me like a problem.

MR. KIRBY: We noted that the groups like ISIS-K could try to reconstitute themselves and that's why we're working continually on making sure we've got a strong over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities, why we're working with partner nations to be able to do that. And it's not like we don't -- it's not like -- I mean, you just read something right from the DIA. From the Defense Intelligence Agency, which ought to tell you exactly my point. Which is we are watching this. We are monitoring this. We're not just sitting idly by waiting for another group to be able to develop a capability. And we have over the horizon Capabilities to deal with that.

Q: But you don't have anyone on the ground. And so, you're going to have more CIVCAS, which is related to the Baghuz report.

MR. KIRBY: Why would we have more CIVCAS? 

Q: Because you don't have anyone on the ground to actually spot. How are you going to go after...

MR. KIRBY: Again, Jen, we've talked about the fact that over the horizon counterterrorism is going to be more difficult, it's not impossible, but it is going to be more difficult. And I actually take issue with the presumption that just because we don't have people on the ground, that's going to lead to more civilian casualties. We haven't done a strike in Afghanistan since we left. 

We haven't felt the need to do that. And it's not about hitting every single terrorist in Afghanistan anytime you want. It's about metering over the horizon capabilities for direct threats and attacks to our interests and to and to our country, and we just haven't seen that materialize. But the fact that you read it from DIA tells you or should tell you, that we are keeping an eye on this. We are watching this. And that's not all that different than what General Milley or Secretary Austin said months ago in congressional testimony. Yeah, Oren.

Q: John, this report focuses on the Baghuz strike. But if you look back in Afghanistan, even with the Secretary's focus on civilian casualties, there appears to be a pattern emerging here of no one being held accountable. What does it take for accountability to be imposed, or for someone to be held accountable for civilian casualties? 

Because you seem to be saying that look, as long as there's no malicious intent, the number is irrelevant of civilian casualties.

MR. KIRBY: No, we've never said that Oren. And again, I think we would take issue with that. I mean, we're standing up here talking about civilian casualties. You don't see that coming out of Ukraine. You don't see that coming out of the Russian Ministry of Defense. 

We're actually answering for it. And we're releasing an unclassified summary of a classified report on civilian casualties. Of course, we take it seriously. We wouldn't...

[CROSSTALK]

MR. KIRBY: ...wait a second. We wouldn't have stood up a Civilian Harm and Mitigation Response Action Plan if we didn't want to get better at this. But in the accountability business, and again, I'm not going to re-litigate every single incident of civilian casualties. But it's war, its combat, and grow ground force commanders or commanders in general, are always going to have perfect visibility, the kind of visibility that General Garrett had, you know, a couple of years now after this strike. 

And we have to have a high bar for accountability on something like this, given that it was in the midst of combat in the fog of war. And if you can prove that an individual deliberately, caused causalities and violated the laws of war, which we actually take seriously, and the Russians don't. Then of course, that would be -- there will be cause for holding people accountable, absolutely. 

But it's in the review, as General Garrett did a review of a previous investigation. And neither of which found that the ground force commander or anybody involved in that strike, violated the Laws of War, or acted inappropriately, or acted with malicious intent, deliberately wanted to and sought out to kill civilians. 

Then you tell me, should they be held accountable? If they were simply doing what their mission required them to do in accordance with the Laws of War. That's a -- I think that's a pretty clear standard. Yeah, Tom.

Q: Hi, John. I have two distinct questions. I'd like to ask them separately, if I may, to give you the full opportunity to address them in a robust manner. My first question is a follow up to Jen and him. You're talking about, you know, no -- a review of what happened, and no violations of Law of War. 

I want to focus on what you said about Secretary Austin of being upset, and I'm paraphrasing slightly, upset at the lack of timeliness and some of the reporting that went on by the individuals involved in the Syria strike.

MR. KIRBY: He said he was disappointed.

Q: Disappointed. OK. Thank you. Those individuals, in other words, those individuals at the time not those involved in making decisions on the field, which you've addressed. But those individuals who fail to be timely in their reporting, sloppy in their reporting, et cetera in reporting. Could they be held accountable for that type of action?

MR. KIRBY: It's a hypothetical question, Tom. I mean...

Q: It's not hypothetical.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, it is. 

Q: We have a copy of the report now.

MR. KIRBY: Tom. Tom.

Q: We're talking about accountability. 

MR. KIRBY: Tom, your question says, could they be held accountable? That's a hypothetical, when ask it that way. Could they? The secretary's comfortable with the work that General Garrett did, and that there were deficiencies that were not only individualistic, but process deficiencies as well. 

And that's why -- and he is holding the department accountable. If you look at his memo, he's ordering the department to, on five keyways, to make ourselves all more accountable to the actual process deficiencies that were conducted in this case.

Q: But at the moment. I have a second one on another topic. You mentioned, the Israeli Defense Minister will be here later -- is planning to be here later this week. Today, the Israeli military launched a three-week exercise called Chariots of Fire. 

To be clear, I'm not going to ask you to share intelligence from the podium, or anything like that. But I am curious, since this drill is underway, what relationship is the Pentagon have like when Israel conducts drills like the one going on at the moment in sharing information, observing that type of thing?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not tracking any role for us in this.

Q: Generally speaking, I said, do we send observers when Israeli military conduct drills?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know, Tom. I mean, every nation's military is entitled to exercise and to train and to improve their capabilities. We have exercised and trained with Israeli Defense Forces we have a strong partnership with them, strong military-to-military relationship. I do not know, what role if any, we have as observers that are involved at all in this exercise. 

Q: The Israelis just put that the U.S. Air Force would be.

MR. KIRBY: I didn't -- I don't have that. OK. That -- you got something I don't have.

Q: Well, I don't know that. That's just what the...

MR. KIRBY: I don't know. I'll take the question and get back to you. I just… you got me on that one. I wasn't prepared for that one. Kasim.

Q: On Baghuz strike, John, you made several times when we talk about this strike, you compared U.S. treatment to the civilian casualty claims to the Russian treatment to these types of operations. In Mariupol, we have seen Russian striking a building where kids in civilians were. And we have been reporting about this that could be, you know, a war crime. 

But in this case, we have seen that woman, children are being killed. Yes, you are coming out speaking to these issues in a transparent way. But that doesn't change the fact that the United States military have killed dozens of kids and women. Why are you making a comparison with the Russians, and just trying to justify the United States?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not trying to justify anything, not at all. The difference is, we're admitting that yes, we killed some innocent civilians, women and children in 2019, in Baghuz, Syria. It's all out there for you to see. We're admitting that we made those mistakes. That we killed, that our operations ended up in the killing of innocent people. 

And we do it -- and when we in other instances have been able to prove that we've been able to say that. But I do think it's important to note the difference here, and I make no apologies for this. Here I am up here, standing here, reading out a -- the results of a review of an investigation of an incident that happened, what three years ago in Syria, with as much detail as we can and as much openness and transparency as we can. 

And you talked about Mariupol, and you can look at places like Bucha and Kyiv, and Chernihiv, and Kharkiv. We can go on, and on, and on, about how many thousands of Ukrainian innocent people have been killed, and wounded, and flung into refuge by a reckless and unprovoked invasion from another nation, in this case, Russia. With zero discussion or zero admission of their own guilt in that. Zero recognition that they and their soldiers have committed war crimes. 

Now, again, I'm not trying to deflect this. We're up here talking about it. And I'll stand up here all day. And we can talk about Baghuz as long as you want. And the documents are going to be in your inbox, if they aren't already. You can look at it yourself. We'll stand up and talk about Baghuz who's all you want. And I'm happy to admit that we have got work to do. And that's why the Secretary again publicly set up a whole team just to get better at civilian harm mitigation. 

But I don't think it's inappropriate for us in this day and moment at this particular time, to not consider what's going on in Ukraine by the Russians at their hand. I do think that that's a fair thing to put into some context here. That's the difference between a responsible modern military and an irresponsible modern military.

Q: As long as there is no accountability, what is the meaning of speaking all day or publishing all these pages by pages of reports?

MR. KIRBY: We are holding ourselves accountable for letting you see everything. Now, did anybody get fired because of Baghuz? No, but it's not because we're trying to protect careers. General Garrett had a completely independent look at this strike, Kasim. I can't change the facts. I didn't do the review. He did. And the Secretary chose a four-star who was completely separate from this to go look at this. And he came back and said that there were no violations of Law of War. 

There was no need to hold somebody personally accountable for what happened that day. I mean, again, I think it's important to remember the ground force commander had certain information available to him. Information, or -- and Garrett had information in hindsight that he didn't have. But given the information that he had, at the time, he made the best decisions he could in the fog of war, in the midst of combat, against a very determined enemy, in a concentrated part of territory in Syria, who were fighting very, very aggressively against our SDF counterparts. 

You make the best decisions you can in war. Do you get it right every time? No. And that's regrettable for all of us. We actually do feel bad about this. But I don't think it's at all a statement that we're not holding ourselves accountable. We are. And the Secretary wouldn't have sent a memo today, ordering changes to the way we handle these processes if we weren't willing to hold ourselves accountable. 

Q: But why isn't General Garrett here answering the questions, John? 

MR. KIRBY: I think we're being transparent as we can be here, Jen. I mean...

Q: It seems to he and the ground commander, that -- those would be the people who should answer the questions. And let's not forget that it was the New York Times that caused this review to take place.

MR. KIRBY: I'm not questioning that at all.

Q: It would not have been taken place without reporters looking into it. 

MR. KIRBY: I'm not denying that the New York Times report spurred this review. I mean, that's one of the most valuable things about a free press is you find things out that maybe we weren't aware of, and you make us think a little bit harder about it. You make us dive a little deeper in that. 

And that's, you know, that's to the press’ credit. But, again, we've been very open about this particular review, you can see the documents for yourself. Yeah, Joe.

Q: Hey, John, thanks. So, two questions. Your you mentioned Neptune Shield. Has that exercise been modified in any way in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine? And also, there's a BALTOPS exercise that usually happens in June. Will that take place as planned or be modified this year?

MR. KIRBY: You'd have to talk to Naval Forces Europe and NATO striking fleet. I don't know. I don't know what modifications were done on the exercise or what that means for BALTOPS. I don't know.

Q: OK. And Greek media is reporting that Greece is seeking to be part of the F-35 program, and that Lockheed is also interested in Greece joining. Does the Pentagon support Greece buying the F-35?

MR. KIRBY: I'd refer you to my State Department colleagues. They handle all foreign military sales. Why is that funny?

Q: I think it's great, because I knew it was coming, that's all. I just love it. I always liked the time between the end of the question and that response. It's just funny.

MR. KIRBY: Fair enough. I'm glad that's good for you. Yes.

Q: I would like to go back to where the Sixth Fleet. The Kearsarge Group is expected to arrive in Stockholm very shortly. Just, can you confirm that? And second, is it linked to the fact that Sweden has started the process to join NATO?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think there's any connection between a port visit and Sweden's decision to seek NATO membership. I won't talk about ship schedules, though. I mean, I don't think we have ever gotten in the business of talking about exact schedules for ships and port visits. 

But there's no connection to a port visit in Stockholm to Sweden's desire to seek NATO membership, no. Yes.

Q: Two quick questions. In terms of -- so defense officials have mentioned that the likeliness of this war, you know, it could go on for a while. Is the DoD tracking any possible equipment, personnel, or technology bottlenecks that the Russians might have to overcome, to continue to prosecute this war?

MR. KIRBY: I think we've already talked about the fact that that we know Mr. Putin is having trouble being able to purchase some necessary electronic components to his precision guided munitions. And that's based a lot on the -- we believe the pressure that is that the sanctions have put on his defense industrial base. But I -- beyond that, I don't have a specific example. Yes.

Q: And then, it seems that the Ukrainians are making some progress on a couple of fronts, most notably around Kharkiv. After the show you Shoigu, Austin mentioned that there should be calls for a ceasefire. The UK said it's a little too early. Do you think that a possible ceasefire could actually harm the Ukrainian counter offensive in some of these areas?

MR. KIRBY: I think we all want to see the fighting end. And that's what the Secretary is referring to an end to the conflict. And what we're doing in the meantime, is trying to provide as many advantages to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as we can so that they are in a better position on the battlefield. 

And should there be a negotiation, a negotiated end to it that they're in a better position at the negotiating table as well.

Q: Can you tell us about the Secretary of the Navy's visit to the USS George Washington today. What his message was to sailors? And what he wanted to say was, you know? Also did he take questions, what were some of the concerns that were raised by sailors during the visit?

MR. KIRBY: My understanding is that the Secretary wanted to get a chance to personally talk to sailors into leadership, aboard the ship to get a handle on what they're doing to accommodate the needs of sailors that are working in this environment. 

I know that many sailors have moved off the ship. I think almost all by now moved off the ship. And I think Secretary Del Toro wanted to see eyes on for himself what the conditions are on the ship, get a chance to talk to sailors to hear their concerns. My understanding I wasn't there most -- but my understanding was, he did get a chance to talk directly with sailors and to hear their concerns. 

And look, they've got an investigation going on into the loss of life there on the George Washington. And obviously, we don't want to get ahead of that. But it's clear that Navy leadership is taking this issue very seriously.

Q: Is there any indication of a change in mood or atmosphere of -- on the ship in recent weeks? And can you talk a little bit more about what the Navy is doing to make sure that sailors are more comfortable and that they're getting access to mental health?

MR. KIRBY: I can't speak to the mood on the ship. I'd refer you to Navy officials to talk about the -- what the crew’s morale is right now. Look, I've served on three ships. And each one of the three ships I served on had a yard period nothing like refueling for an aircraft carrier that takes years, that's a much different environment. But a shipyard period, that's hard for any sailor. 

When you join the Navy, you join to exercise your skills. And you want to do that at sea. So, it's a tough duty, and I'm sure the secretary had a chance to see for himself the conditions on the GW. Which again, a ship is not meant to be penned up in a yard, it's a difficult environment. And I -- it's pretty -- it's very clear that the Navy's taken the condition seriously and the concerns of the sailors seriously. 

They're beginning to move -- like I said, most of them are off the ship now. Some of them we're living on there. They're moving them off and they're finding accommodations for them. And they're making available to them mental health counseling, and support. Making it clear to the crew that that it's a strength, not a weakness, to ask for support and they're making that support available to them. But again, for more detail on what's going on in the ship, I'd point you to the Navy. Yeah. I haven't gotten anybody on the phone here. Phil Stewart.

Q: Hey, John. Real quick on the August 29th strike in Kabul, have the families of the victims have received any condolence payments yet, and have any of them been brought the United States. If you could update us on that and sorry if I missed something on that. 

And then secondly, there have been reports that Putin is taking personal control or command of some aspects of this war, perhaps out of frustration with his progress. Could you comment on that? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: On your first question, I don't have anything report with respect to ex gratia payments, or transportation of the family from Afghanistan at this point. What was your second question?

Q: About Putin and whether or not he is personally kind of getting involved in managing the war?

MR. KIRBY: Again, Phil, we don't have perfect visibility into the upper levels of command of the Russian military. He is as President of the Russian Federation. He is ultimately in charge of his military. We know that he was involved in the planning of this invasion from the very earliest days. 

And we know that he has remained in contact with his senior civilian and military leaders throughout it. Now exactly what he's hearing from them, how accurate that is, and how that affects whatever decisions he's making. We couldn't say. Jeff Seldin.

Q: John, thanks very much for doing this question regarding the Inspector General report on Afghanistan, which warned that the Taliban might sort of loosen restrictions on Al-Qaeda. How worried is the Pentagon that the Taliban are preparing to go back on their word from the Doha Agreement? 

And the report also talked about the Taliban making what are called incremental gains, with repairing and deploying some of the aircraft that the Taliban captured. How big of a concern is that to regional stability moving forward?

MR. KIRBY: On Al-Qaeda, we've long said that we're going to judge the Taliban by what they do, not what they say. And we have acknowledged that, as I said earlier, that Al-Qaeda could try to achieve a stronger foothold in Afghanistan. It's not like they weren't there before, they were. 

And one of the things that we were watching for, and before the president's decision to order the removal of troops from Afghanistan was, in fact, the degree to which the Taliban were abiding by their Doha commitments to not provide safe haven to Al-Qaeda. And we weren't able to ascertain 100 percent that they were willing and able to do that. 

So, we're watching this as closely as we can. Is it of concern? Of course, it's of concern. Nobody wants to see Al-Qaeda regain any kind of tangible footprint in Afghanistan or any ability to plan or attack outside the region. Again, that's why we're monitoring it. That's why we're closely watching it. That's why we're continuing to work on an over the horizon counterterrorism capability. 

On the aircraft thing, I haven't seen that part of the report. So, I'm just going to take your question, and we'll see if we can get you a better answer. But I'll leave it at that. Mike Brest, Washington.

Q: Hi, thank you. CENTCOM told the New York Times at the time they came out with their piece on a Syrian strike, that there were 16 confirmed fighters among the 80 that who -- 80 that died, only four were civilians. Can you speak to the other 60 people who CENTCOM couldn't identify as either a friendly or a fighter? And address if we know how many civilian casualties were even in the strike?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to re-litigate the investigation. General Garrett did a review of the investigation. But I can tell you was that it was a total of 73 casualties. 52 enemies were killed in action. Of those 52, 51 were adult males, one was a child. Two enemies were wounded in action. Both were males. Four civilians were killed, one female and three children. And 15 civilians were wounded 11 women and four children. That was the result of General Garrett's review of the CENTCOM investigation. Karoun from Washington Post.

Q: That was actually, my exact question about the -- if we knew the actual numbers of fatalities and casualties. And you rattled off a lot of numbers there. So we're good.

MR. KIRBY: Jeff Schogol.

Q: Thank you. During today's UAP, hearing, a congressman asked whether the Defense Department has the capability to monitor for UAPs underwater. The congressman was told this was a matter for a closed session. So, I was hoping to reframe his question, is DoD looking for UAPs underwater?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to even attempt that one, Jeff. If it's a matter for a closed session with Congress, I think you can understand why we wouldn't be talking about that from the podium. OK. Gordon.

Q: Just to ask a question about background accountability, I think what fuels a lot of the questions, is this idea that even when the Pentagon chooses a independent four-star, separate from the operation and all that, the person is still cut from the same cloth cultural, the rest of it. 

Has the secretary given any thought to like further distancing some of these reviews, which are critical to your own scrutiny of these operations away from, as best or more, so from the culture and the operations that...

MR. KIRBY: Look, I think it's got to be a balance, because somebody also has to be informed, and educated, and experienced in military operations as well. So, look, he stood up the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan. Secretary Maier's putting that team together. I suspect that they're going to look at a whole range of things that we can do better to both prevent civilian harm, and then to properly investigate ourselves afterward. 

So, I don't want to get ahead of that work. They might very well find that, as we review investigations, maybe we -- maybe that could be done differently, I don't know. But the secretary had ultimate trust and confidence, complete trust and confidence, in General Garrett's ability to do this, given his own lengthy experience in the military and his distance from this. He wasn't involved in this and had -- was able to be objective about it.

Look, I understand the questions about accountability. I get it. We take each one as it comes. And each one, if it's not properly investigated, you've seen us be willing to go back in and re-investigate it. And that includes the 29 August airstrike in Kabul. In war, not every decision goes exactly as you predict it will. Not every action you take has all the effects that you want it to have. 

And as hard as we work, and I'll say it again, no other military in the world works harder than the United States military to prevent and to not cause civilian harm. It's impossible to get to zero in every case, during every conflict. It's just impossible. The difference is that we do hold ourselves accountable. I know you don't think we do because nobody got fired. 

But the Department holds itself accountable because we're actually investigating these things. And even when we don't think the investigation needs to be looked at again, we look at it again. And then we make those results public. We talk about it. We answer questions about it, that's holding ourselves to account. I get it. I understand it. You know, there's a -- there are some who would like to see, you know, jobs lost, positions fired. 

And we're not afraid to do that in many cases throughout the department. But it's war, and the decisions we make, we want to look and see if those decisions were the right ones in the moment with the information that they had available to them. With the, you know, with the actual tangible, lethal threat in their face. 

And in this case, and I'm not going to re-litigate every case, but in this case, General Garrett found that the ground force commander made the best decisions that he could, given the information he had, at the time, given a very lethal, very aggressive ISIS threat in a very confined space. And it is deeply regrettable, we deeply regret, we apologize for the loss of innocent life that was taken in this particular strike. It matters to us. 

It matters so much to us, that the Secretary of Defense wanted a review of this investigation done. And the Secretary of Defense personally has now issued guidance to the department to get better at the deficiencies that General Garrett found. And we're going to keep working at this, Gordon. We're not always going to get it right. But we're always going to try to get it right. 

And we're going to try to talk about what we're doing to get it right. And I think that's remarkable. OK. Thank you. 

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